Harriet Tubman by Bertabel’s Dolls

Name: Harriet Tubman

Made by and When: Bertabel’s Dolls (I. Roberta Bell), 1969

Material: Clay head and hands, stuffed tan silk body, arms, and legs

Marks: Bertabel Dolls is on the outside of the hangtag

Height: 16 inches

Hair, Eyes, Mouth: Salt and pepper hair, brown painted eyes, closed mouth with deep burgundy painted lips

Clothes: Navy blue cotton jacket, navy blue satin scarf, black linen skirt, full-length off-white underdress, off-white long pantaloons, white cotton socks, and black vinyl mock-lace-up shoes. A red floral-print scarf covers the doll’s hair. The doll holds a stuffed shoulder bag made from blue and white striped mattress ticking.

Other: Part of I. Roberta Bell’s Famous Black Americans series (in later years referred to as African American Heritage Dolls), Harriet Tubman has sculpted and painted facial features. The Bertabel Dolls hang tag, which is attached to the right wrist with a white pipe cleaner, reads: “Harriet Tubman/1826-1913/It has been said that Harriet Tubman, born a slave, unable to read and write, was ‘strong as a man, brave as a lion, cunning as a fox.’ She has been called the ‘Black Moses of her race’, and, as a conductor of the underground railroad, made over 19 journeys to the deep south and led over 300 slaves to freedom.”

A 1993 reprint of the book, Harriet Tubman the Moses of Her People by Sarah Bradford (first published in 1886) and an undated, circa 1980s newspaper article, “The Legend of Auburn’s Aunt Harriet continues to grow” by Dick Case accompanied this doll. The former owner possibly kept these materials with the doll.

Bertabel’s African American Heritage Dolls (portraits of famous African Americans) were used as teaching tools in her classrooms and in the community. I. Roberta Bell’s first African American Heritage Doll was made in the likeness of George Washington Carver. Sets of 26 dolls representing different historical African Americans were donated to several museums across the United States.

I want every Black American to be aware of his heritage and be proud of it. I want every White American to know it.—I. Roberta Bell



Frank B. Jones, “Doll Emissaries of Black History a Study of an Artist and Her Dolls,” college paper submitted April 6, 1976.


-See other Bertabel’s Dolls in the museum here.

-Visit the Bertabel’s Dolls by I. Roberta Bell Pinterest board here.

-Read more about the artist and her work in a three-part series that begins here.


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Published by DeeBeeGee

Doll collector, historian, co-founder of the first e-zine devoted to collecting black dolls; author of black-doll reference books, doll blogs, and doll magazine articles.

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